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HOOKED ON CLASSICS ‌ The Keymaster

Spoleto regular McDermott plays the Sottile

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Anne-Marie McDermott
International Piano Series
Tues. Feb. 6 at 8 p.m.
$20 (CofC students free)
Sottile Theatre
44 George St.
953-6575

The affable, charming pianist Anne-Marie McDermott has been a Charleston favorite since Charles Wadsworth asked her to join his troupe of young chamber players back at Spoleto 1994.

I spoke with her last week in anticipation of her concert Tuesday, part of the College of Charleston's International Piano Series.

Like many musicians, McDermott lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, close to Lincoln Center. And like many musicians I've interviewed, she was about to get on a plane (to Curaçao -- she plays at a resort there three times a year).

She started playing when she was five. Neither of her parents were musicians, but when she was 10 and teachers explained to them the breadth of her talent, they arranged for her to go to school two hours a day.

"It's so important to be able to have that time to practice when you're young," she says. "And it wasn't so weird. My sister (New York Phil violinist Kerry McDermott, 16 months older), did it with me."

It's easy to see why audiences love the bright-eyed McDermott. She's intense and easy-going at the same time, a breath of fresh air, more than willing to talk about things like her concert footwear (flats now, but used to be heels, which she says are perfectly fine for pedaling) -- or her cell phone ring tone (Bach's Violin and Piano Sonata in E major, "although it's in a different key, I mean, computer programmers, what do they care?")

She's married to Michael Lubin, who works in satellite communications.

"There are certain neurotic habits which make it hard for two musicians to be married to each other," she says. "The schedule, needing to take naps on days of concerts. When I married my husband, he said to me, 'I accept always being second in your life.'"

You just don't see that in a lot of vows.

One thing she's not married to is a particular instrument. Eighty concerts a year means about 80 different pianos, some with heavy key action, some with light, some with a dead sound, some too bright.

"When I was a really young artist, there were times I'd sit down and I'd just spontaneously start to cry because the piano was so bad," she says. (At rehearsals, she clarifies -- never at performances.)

Part of the "weighty program" that McDermott will play Tuesday night is Schubert's Sonata in B-flat major, which she calls "profound, gorgeous, and reflective.

"It sort of makes you think about the important issues in your life," she says. "It sounds like it was written by somebody toward the end of their life, reflecting back. What's unbelievable about this piece of music is that Schubert wrote it in the last year of his life, when he was just 30."

Franz Lizst called Schubert the most poetic musician who ever lived. I told McDermott the idea of a young person composing like his life was about to end recalled the Romantic poet John Keats, who died at 26. When he was 20, Keats was a sickly, and unaccomplished, writer who decided he'd better improve his verse fast while he still had time.

While we were talking I checked the dictionary. Keats' dates are 1795-1821, Schubert's 1797-1828.

"Oh wow! That's wild!" she says. "I wonder if there was something in the air back then?"

Yep. Tuberculosis.

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